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Forensics community culture, success evident in six national qualifications
Director Cristy Dougherty has expanded Bethel forensics with a community focus.
One of six colleges nationally to qualify for the American Forensics Association National Speech Tournament (AFA-NST) every year since its conception in 1978, Bethel College Forensics is a prestigious program. Additionally, the team is only growing. Since Dr. Cristy Dougherty became the Director of Forensics in 2021, team numbers have sextupled.
“When I first joined there were three other people on the team,” said junior Emil Benavides from Stockton. “We used to have our meetings in the squad room and now we have to have our meetings in a classroom because of our size. It makes me emotional to think about how big this team has become.”
In the past year, the Bethel forensics team has grown from seven students to eighteen. While a competitive activity, Dougherty often calls forensics a team sport. She continues to emphasize a focus on the team as a community, even as it grows.
“The culture has shifted and changed a lot since my first year,” said Dougherty. “The students on the team are passionate about their art. It feels good to be able to foster a community where bright, talented, and compassionate students can create, tell their stories, and speak their truth.”
Dougherty’s community focus is evident even to those who have recently joined the team. “My favorite part of the team [is] the atmosphere. Everyone is super supportive of each other and always willing to help each other out,” said freshman Sophia England from Pretty Prairie.
This community empowers students and director alike. “Being a three-time AFA qualifier has made me realize that I am smarter than I think I am,” said Benavides. “I am capable of doing things that seem ‘hard,’ which has also helped me become more confident.”
“Growth for me has been to learn how to encourage students to think deeply and be authentic. In the past, I've been a lot more hands on with students, but I allow my students now to take control,” said Dougherty. “It is not my knowledge, not my art, not my voice – it's theirs. I'm just there to provide my expertise when they need it. It's funny – it's almost like we are all learning and teaching one another how to trust not only one another, but ourselves as well.”
This focused approach brings results. Throughout the fall semester, six competitors have qualified their events to nationals. Junior Emil Benavides, junior Lucy Buller, and senior Hayden Honomichl all earned at large qualifications to AFA-NST. Furthermore, at the recent Districts National Qualifier Tournament, freshman Sophi England, sophomore Becca Schlosser, and sophomore Isaiah Smith also qualified events for nationals. The spring semester will offer additional opportunities for qualification.
The AFA-NST will be held in Milwaukee, Wis. at the end of the spring competition season.